Sunday, May 26, 2024

Pope Francis vs. Cardinal Hollerich (Opinion)

In his interview with 60 Minutes that aired this week on CBS, Pope Francis made one thing crystal clear: There is zero chance he will ever approve the ordination of women as priests or deacons.

This in turn makes something else equally evident: With respect to the needlessly contentious issue of ordaining women, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich — the relator general of the Church’s global Synod on Synodality — is substantially out of step with the Holy Father.

Asked by CBS interviewer Norah O’Donnell if a woman could ever become “a deacon and participate as a clergy member of the Church,” Francis tersely replied, “No.” 

Pressed further by O’Donnell, who noted that he had authorized continuing investigations of the possibility of female deacons even though he had earlier ruled out the possibility of female priests, the Pope explained, “If it is deacons in holy orders, no.” 

You can’t get more straightforward than that. 

Contrast this concise response with what Cardinal Hollerich had to say in an interview of his own, published only a few days before CBS aired its papal interview. 

Speaking with Jacqueline Straub, an employee of the online portal for the Church in Switzerland who describes herself as being “called to be a Roman Catholic priest,” the cardinal insisted the ban on ordaining women is “not an infallible doctrinal decision.”

Therefore, he told Straub, while women’s ordination is not likely to happen during the papacy of Pope Francis, given his stated opposition, it could happen further down the road. “It needs arguments and time,” he explained.

To refute Cardinal Hollerich’s specious comments, we need to understand why Francis was so blunt and unequivocal in his remarks to CBS. 

As the Holy Father has pointed out previously, the ordination of female priests was precluded by St. John Paul II in his definitive 1994 apostolic declaration Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

“I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” John Paul stated at the conclusion of that document. 

Again, you can’t get any clearer than that. 

And, since deacons and priests are, with bishops, degrees of holy orders (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1536), John Paul’s ruling regarding the ordination of priests necessarily extends to deacons too, as Pope Francis indicated to O’Donnell.

For his part, Cardinal Hollerich is very much aware of this papal clarity. That’s why he equivocated about whether he actually backs women’s ordination personally in his latest remarks. It’s also why he stressed the need to advance warily. 

“If you push too much, you won’t achieve much,” he advised the Swiss proponent of women priests. “You have to be cautious, take one step at a time, and then you might be able to go very far.”

The cardinal’s comments are standard talking points for high-level prelates whenever they seek to undermine settled Catholic doctrine and practices in pursuit of secularizing agendas, without seeming to be openly challenging what the Church teaches. 

And as such, they would be of relatively little significance had they been proffered by, say, an obscure European theologian participating in Germany’s heterodox Synodal Way.

But it’s an entirely different matter when these arguments emanate from the Synod on Synodality’s relator general, who has been assigned the lead role in its overall orientation. 

Right from the outset of that synodal process, there have been widespread concerns that a shell game is underway in Rome, with progressives seeking to misuse it as an instrument to advance acceptance of dissenting agendas such as the ordination of women and the approval of homosexual acts.

In fact, proponents of women’s ordination wasted no time in accusing the Pope of having violated the principle of synodality by making his comments to CBS in advance of the synod’s final session in October. 

Such accusations provide further proof that so far as they are concerned, this process very specifically exists to push forward their controversial agendas.

At the synod’s first session last fall, delegates from outside of Europe — particularly those from Africa — pushed back powerfully against these agendas. 

This resistance seems certain to continue at this year’s session. 

But even if that results in a final outcome that doesn’t contradict existing Church doctrines and practices, as seems likely, discussion of these matters is guaranteed to continue afterward, courtesy of the 10 “working groups” that were set up in March to discuss women’s ordination and the other issues that have generated significant controversy during the synodal process. 

So no immediate end is in sight to the progressives’ push at the Vatican for the ordination of women priests and deacons. 

But there is now one very welcome development: Courtesy of the CBS interview, they won’t be able to claim that Pope Francis supports them in any way on this issue.